Last Friday, the Dean of the Beeson Program, Randy Jessen, gathered us together to do a little brainstorming, thinking, projecting, and discussing the whole church thing. We do this periodically cause he things it will help us, and generally, it does. To get us in the mood, he gave us two scenarios of potential churches we could end up in when this year is over and done.
Church 1 averaged over 1700 in worship, had $4,500 in debt, interest income from a million dollar annuity bequeathed to the church, a five hundred seat sanctuary that was packed three times a morning, and a legacy of 20 years of non-stop growth.
Church 2 averaged 78 people in worship in a five hundred seat sanctuary over two services. It had $200k in debt, $700 in the bank, and had just come off of a scandal where the last pastor went out defrocked and disgraced.
Which of the two churches do you think most of my classmates jumped after? If you said Church 1, you were absolutely positively......... wrong. Almost to the person, the general consensus was that every person in the room would rather have the beaten down church facing bankruptcy. Is it because Beeson Pastors like renewal? a challenge? Preaching to 450 empty seats?
Or, would pastors rather not follow winners?
Years ago a good friend of mine who helped get me into this ministry gig, told me that he would rather follow a pastor who had been a complete disaster than somebody who had done a good job. The rational he used was that it's ten times harder to do better than someone who has been doing a good job than to do better than a doofus. No doubt, when we were talking about Church 1 you could see in my classmates eyes, if not a fear, a definite concern with how much pressure you'd be in a church that had grown from 200 to 1700 in worship over 20 years. Personal performance would need to be high from the start, as expectations on the part of church leadership and the UM-hierarchy (my apologizes to our two non-UM's in the class) would be sky high, particularly if the person you are following is made a saint by the laity within four months of the moving van pulling out of the driveway.
What must it have been like for the disciples to know that they had to follow the Son of God with the message of the Gospel? It's no wonder Jesus had to promise the Holy Spirit because I gather, given the way Jesus' died and the tough life here on earth he promised them, the disciples had to feel more than a little overwhelmed. Talk about expectations.... most of the world hates them, and the rest don't know they exist. Not mention, the guy you follow could raise the dead.
"Yeah you can give a decent sermon, but can you raise the dead?"
And so we pray for our own Pentecost, my classmates and I. A blowing of the Spirit into our souls, hearts and minds, so that we might see clearly, and hear with clarity the promises of faithfulness, no matter if we are accepted or rejected by others. For some of us are headed to serve churches on the margins, others will be starting a new church, others will end up places where people haven't been excited about much in a long time..... and, I suspect, one or two of us will be following a winner.
"And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of time."
We're counting on that Jesus. We're counting on you.